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President Niinistö calls snap meeting on Syria, Soini urges US-Russian talks

The Finnish president has convened an extraordinary meeting of the government's foreign and security policy committee to consider developments in Syria. Meanwhile the foreign minister warns of the dangers of a confrontation between the major powers over the Syrian conflict.

Pres. Niinistö spoke briefly to reporters outside the Council of State building on Friday, Image: Yle

President Sauli Niinistö has called a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy to discuss the situation in Syria.

The committee includes the president – who is mandated with leading the nation's foreign policy – as well as key government ministers.

He spoke briefly to reporters afterwards, saying it is "clear that Assad is the main guilty party in Syria".

"It is essential that the international community acts now," he said. "The UN has already discussed the issue before the US strikes, but was unable to reach unanimity. It may be difficult to reach any quick decisions within the UN sphere."

Niinistö added that he hopes there will be progress on calming the situation in Syria after US Secretary of State's Rex Tillerson visit to Moscow, which is scheduled for next Tuesday.

"That meeting now takes on greater gravity," Niinistö noted.

"War crime"

On Thursday, Niinistö made a brief comment on the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib region of north-western Syria. Overnight the US fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the small Shayrat airbase, from which it says the attack was launched.

Niinistö said that there were not supposed to be any chemical weapons in Syria anymore and that the gas attack fit the definition of a war crime. He declined to evaluate the US and Russian roles in the conflict.

Niinistö added that ISIS's diminishing role in Syria had been expected to calm the situation in the country, but that it continued to look grim.

Soini: "Highly significant change"

Speaking Yle TV1's breakfast show on Friday morning, Foreign Minister Timo Soini said the US strike was a "highly significant change in that now the big powers are heading in different directions."

He noted that "either action or inaction after the use of chemical weapons is a message."

Soini declined to speculate on the possible repercussions of the strike, but said that a confrontation between the US and Russia over Syria would be undesirable.

"It is of course not good in any way if major powers are quite strongly in opposition to each other. Now we need responsibility, sense and a focus on solutions. We must remember that the use of chemical weapons is unequivocally wrong and unacceptable," he said.

"We must always keep in mind that those who suffer the most are civilians," Soini added. "I hope that the major powers can negotiate on this between them and finally give the UN's Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, a real opportunity to move forward and achieve peace."

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